9,000-year-old obsidian tools discovered at the bottom of Lake Huron | Archeology

The two ancient obsidian flakes recovered from a now submerged archaeological site beneath Lake Huron represent the oldest and farthest east of confirmed occurrence of western obsidian in the continental United States.

A scuba diver near a submerged hunting structure on the bottom of Lake Huron. Image credit: O’Shea et al., doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0250840.

Obsidian, or volcanic glass, is a prized raw material for tailors, ancient and modern, with its shiny appearance, predictable chipping and razor-sharp edges.

As such, it has been widely used and traded throughout most of human history.

Obsidian from the Rocky Mountains and the West was an exotic trade good in eastern North America.

“Obsidian from the far western United States is rarely found in the east,” said Dr. Ashley Lemke, an anthropologist in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Texas at Arlington.

The two ancient obsidian artifacts were recovered from a sediment sample that was hand-dug to a depth of 32m (105ft) in an area between two submerged hunting structures at the bottom of Lake Huron .

“This particular find is really exciting because it shows how important underwater archeology is,” Dr Lemke said.

“The preservation of ancient underwater sites is unprecedented on earth, and these places have given us a great opportunity to learn about peoples of the past.”

Photomicrographs of the two obsidian flakes from Lake Huron.  The scale is in millimeters.  Image credit: O'Shea et al., doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0250840.

Photomicrographs of the two obsidian flakes from Lake Huron. The scale is in millimeters. Image credit: O’Shea et al., doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0250840.

The largest artifact is an almost complete, roughly triangular biface thinning shard made from a black, translucent material with an underglaze texture.

The second artifact is a small, very thin translucent shard on material visually similar to the larger specimen.

“These tiny obsidian artifacts reveal social connections across North America 9,000 years ago,” Dr. Lemke said.

“Artifacts found beneath the Great Lakes come from a geologic source in Oregon, 4,000 km (2,485 miles) away – making this one of the longest recorded distances for obsidian artifacts anywhere in the world. world.”

The results were published in the journal PLOS ONE.

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JM O’Shea et al. 2021. Central Oregon obsidian from an early Holocene submerged archaeological site beneath Lake Huron. PLOS ONE 16(5):e0250840; doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0250840

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